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Although the primary job of a project manager shouldn’t be to play referee, when team members are closely collaborating, there is always potential for conflict. As ideas are shared, priorities laid out and responsibilities established, every now and then a project manager can expect some push back. Understanding the main causes of conflict between team members can help management to avoid those instances and properly address them as they arise.

Causes of Conflict

The coming together of different personalities can typically lead to conflict, but there are also certain situations during the lifecycle of a project that also tend to create situations of struggle. Although a project manager should be aware of possible conflict at all phases of the project, the following are some situations in which they should expect to be particularly vigilant:

Project Management Style

The first example of potential conflict is a project manager’s style of management. A project manager that is disciplined and process oriented may not mesh well with a flexible team that is used to creative direction. There is always a chance of disagreement if the PM’s procedure is different from how the team wants to perform.

Managing conflict in the workplace when it comes to a project manager’s style is an easy fix. If a project manager wishes to see the project become a success, they will work to better align their style with their team. That means giving people the freedom they need to perform the tasks assigned without micro-managing.

Stakeholder Agendas

Differing interests among the main stakeholders can be one of the greatest causes of conflict in a project and one that can sink it before it has a chance to swim. In this instance, conflict management is critical to project success. There are many types of people that can play the stakeholder role, including:

  • Clients
  • Vendors
  • Team members
  • External contractors
  • Government

Whoever has a vested interest in the project and a say in how it goes is someone that should be fully involved in the process. A project shouldn’t move on until all stakeholder agendas are aligned. Effective conflict management involves hearing out all stakeholder interests before reaching an agreement that is within budget.

Change in Scope

As a project progresses, instances may arise that can shift the scope of the project. Effectively managing conflict in the workplace means communicating these changes with the team and ensuring they are comfortable with them.

For example, if a team of designers is building a project and two months in the management decides to change the scope due to market research, there will inevitably be some push back from the design team. However, if it is effectively communicated ahead of time why the changes are needed (with perhaps a bonus added for incentive) there is a good chance of keeping conflict to a minimum.

 

Although conflict management is not the primary role of a project manager, it is in their best interest to keep everyone happy. Dissatisfied stakeholders and uncooperative team members can make a PM’s job very difficult and can ultimately cause the project to fail. A skilled project manager knows how to lead a satisfied team to project success by open communication, commitment and effective conflict resolution.